Dignitaries from across Europe packed into Versaille Palace, on the Parisian outskirts, to sign the Versaille Treaty on the 28th June 1919 – formally ending the First World War. None of the nations that signed the treaty liked it, even though it came after meetings and a peace summit that had lasted for more than a year. This article will explore the background to the Versaille Treaty, and why it is one of the most despised agreements in history.
Europe was left in ruins after the First World War. In the north west, there were huge swathes of barren land – because towns and villages in Belgium and France had vanished into thin air. Casualties were suffered by both the Central Powers and Allied Powers on a virtually unimaginable scale. And, as far as the voices at Versaille were concerned, Germany was responsible.
In line with this sentiment, the Versaille Treaty penalized Germany in several ways. For example, the newly formed League of Nations took over German colonies, and the Rhineland was demilitarized and occupied. The country was stripped of ten percent of its’ inhabitants and thirteen percent of its’ land. Most significantly, Germany was required to try its’ emperor, Wilhelm II, for military crimes and pay huge financial reparations for Allied losses.
Many German people grew resentful of the Versaille Treaty over the following years, and felt let down by the leaders who had signed it and served in government subsequently. Political activists on the extreme right – particularly the Nazis (National Socialist Workers’ Party) – gained support during the 1920’s and 1930’s, by pledging to restore Germany’s national pride. When the Great Depression started in 1929, the fragmented Weimar government was destabilized further by economic unrest. This paved the way for the leader of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler, to seize power four years later.
Notwithstanding, in spite of its’ longer term ramifications, the Versaille Treaty did have a positive effect over the short to medium term. The signing of the treaty resulted in peace for twenty years, where the border between Germany and Poland was not disputed. France was able to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine from the Germans, and Belgium and France were compensated – to a certain extent – for the damage their countries suffered.